1. Apollypopping

    Apollypopping Member

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    How do you convey age?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Apollypopping, Mar 31, 2017.

    My main cast ranges in age from 23 to around 40. I'm not sure how to convey ages without writing,

    'Margot is twenty-three.'

    Their precise age isn't important but I'm not too sure how to show it, in this instance.

    Any tips?
     
  2. The Arcane

    The Arcane Member

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    There is no way you could convey that a character is twenty-three in specific, but you could show that a character is significantly younger than another by exaggerating a level of maturity between the two. Do this through dialogue, not narration.

    If you are truly stuck, make it someone's birthday.
     
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  3. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    There's a thread back here that you might find interesting.

    If you're working with a contemporary setting, you can use things like whether a character knows how to drive or has held down a stable job, though those are things that are more helpful with younger characters. I typically go for comparisons to other characters - describe one as old enough to be another's parent, or as 'a little younger/older than [other character]', but that does require as least some impression of how old the basis character is.

    Physical descriptors like a weathered face or graying hair help - and can be played with; I have a character who starts seriously graying in his mid-twenties, so I could describe his hair as a counter example of how old he is ("graying hair despite his age" etc) - and vague terms like 'middle-aged' give you a range to work within.

    There are maturity markers, as well - a character who always acts selfishly or petulantly is probably going to be assumed to be on the younger side, and one who's always jaded and resigned will probably come across as older, and like my gray-haired twentysomething those can also be used to contrast their actual age if they're an adult who acts like a bratty child.

    Ultimately, it depends on how important their exact ages are. I almost always have specific ages figured out for my characters, but they don't tend to actually figure into anything. In my current wip I know that the mcs are 25 and 32, but would it really matter if people assumed they were both 24 or so? Eh, not really. The younger one's age comes up more because their parents had more kids when they were 19, so them being an adult with quite young siblings is weird and remarked-upon, but the older one could be any age around that area. That's all that really matters.
     
  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Possibilities for the 23 year old.
    • She's recently graduated from college and is in her first job.
    • Her little brother just turned 18 and she talks to him about his first legal drink.
    • Her little brother just graduated from high school.
    • A male friend, perhaps a former college classmate, gripes that he's been subject to the draft for three years but only now can drink legally. (So I just moved the drinking age to 21.)
    • She reminisces about her own high school graduation in some way that makes her current age guessable.
    • She grumbles about her car insurance rates.
     
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  5. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Just think about when you would state your exact age ( I am 23!) and put it in dialogue, if it is a place you would say that. If you are narrating, no need to be overly specific: early twenties. My two MFCs are both about the same age, early 20s and both had traumatic incidents when they were twelve. So they talk about what happened ten years ago, "before my breasts even budded, before I bled for the first time" (this is 2000 years ago) and let that be specific enough. My senior officer may command a legion when he gets back so .... late thirties? And he and his centurion have been soldiering since the officer was a green subaltern tribune and the soldier a fresh-caught miles, and the centurion is expecting his retirement so ... late thirties, early forties?
     
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  6. Apollypopping

    Apollypopping Member

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    Funny you should mention that, my 23 year old is graying.

    You're probably right, it's only really important for my 40ish year old. Even then I could probably squirm out of mentioning it entirely.

    The youngest and the oldest aren't at all fans of each other, maybe I can work with that.
     
  7. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    • The children of former classmates are in high school, and one has already graduated.
    • People who were born since he became an adult, are now adults. This was an "Oh, my God" thing for me.
    • He gets his twenty years certificate from his employer, and finds it depressing.
    • He just hit twenty years, and now gets four weeks' vacation per year!
    • If he's a she, the window for having kids is closing or closed.
    • He reminisces about his twenty-years high school reunion, and debates whether he's going to go to the twenty-five-year.
    • The twenty-years college reunion is coming up this year.
    • Edited to add: Of course, if he has kids, high school or college is coming up for them.
     
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  8. Apollypopping

    Apollypopping Member

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    I will probably use this, thank you.

    Other wise, they're all 'technically' in Rehab. So jobs and home life are absent or on hold.
     
  9. ExpiredAspiration

    ExpiredAspiration Member

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    To convey age I would concentrate on how a character does something rather than what he or she is specifically doing. For example, a child is more likely to be restless during a long bus ride home while a more mature character might be struggling to stay awake, it boils to down to both of them waiting for their stops and yet there's such a distinction between the two. Likewise, this also applies to dialogue, it isn't as crucial to focus on what a character is specifically saying rather than how they say it. An adolescent might mutter or speak to their parents in exasperated exhales of angst while a young child might prounounce each syllable with bouncing enthusiasm.
     
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  10. Skye Walker

    Skye Walker Banned

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    Oooh, this is something I can help with. Yesterday, I think, I was having trouble with showing how old one of my MCs was. In the end, I conveyed it through dialogue.

    “Who are you to judge, anyway? You’re twelve!”


    “Well, in order, I’m Maddox, I’m fourteen, and I’m not the one acting like a twelve-year-old!” Maddox hissed, standing up.

    And, in another spot:

    Leo stared blankly. “Are you nine.”

    “Teen.”

    Not sure if this helps or not, since my characters are sort of young and value the exact number of years they've been alive a lot more than adults do, but eeeh, thought I'd try.
     
  11. Apollypopping

    Apollypopping Member

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    I love this hahaha.
     
  12. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_tribune

    "A military tribune (Latin tribunus militum, "tribune of the soldiers", Greek chiliarchos, χιλίαρχος) was an officer of the Roman army who ranked below the legate and above the centurion"...so a Centurion could be described as "a green subaltern tribune"
     
  13. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Nope. A centurion was an up from the ranks soldier, comparable to a modern senior NCO or warrant, as he had officer responsibilities. See "The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: from the First Century CE to the Third." He would typically be in his late thirties, early forties. A tribune was typically equestrian class or high, but came in like the "baby brown bar" 2nd LT at around 18-20, had to grow into responsibilities, and may be HQ staff without command responsibilities.
     
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  14. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    In my WIP, I slip in the ages of two characters during a quick bit of exposition...

    For a middle-aged man, Gael retained a tireless vitality. The man who managed animal acts at an opera house in decline, and at present, with a twelve year old girl in tow, resembled a disheveled lion that had a penchant for bourbon and brothels. A deep scar cut across his left cheek, a souvenir he had acquired on one of his travels; whether it was given him by a leopard or bear, one could not be certain, for the details had a habit of changing from one telling to the next, embellished always with wine, while the truth was shared only with the perpetrator herself — a jealous lover, a Negress from one of the southern islands.
     
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  15. Ettina

    Ettina Senior Member

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    You mean drug rehab, or something similar? Because even in rehab, home lives & work are relevant. Characters may discuss getting into trouble at work, or finding work stressful, or they may mention the impact that their issues may have on their families. They may also be visited by family, or get "get well soon" cards from work or school. Those who are in school of some sort might be doing homework or studying to try to catch up. (My brother was hospitalized for depression briefly in high school, and they made him do homework there.) Characters might also show areas of expertise, and when asked, explain that the skill is related to their job or university major.
     
  16. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    [DRAFT 2]

    For a middle-aged man, Gael retained a tireless vitality.

    'Yes, I adore that middle-aged man,' he said.

    The man who managed animal acts at an opera house in decline, and at present, with a twelve year old girl in tow, resembled a disheveled lion that had a penchant for bourbon and brothels.

    'Hic,' he roared, and dragged the child by his tail.

    A deep scar cut across his left cheek, a souvenir he had acquired on one of his travels; whether it was given him by a leopard or bear, or was self-inflicted by a lion, one could not be certain, for the details had a habit of changing from one telling to the next, embellished always with wine, but not with bourbon, while the truth was shared only with the perpetrator herself — a jealous lover, a Negress from one of the southern islands who was very exotic.
     
  17. Soapbox

    Soapbox Member

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    I think this would work well for a YA or a fantasy novel that has a much larger range of ages (say hundreds of years). It's humorous and I agree with the point that young people do value that. Just be careful when using it. Sometimes the reader needs to believe that the character they are identifying with is their age. I have read many books where I had trouble seeing the character as the announced age, instead choosing to believe they equaled my numbers.

    A great way to show is through action, dialogue, and back-story. I'm not suggesting an info-dump, but in the case of rehab, there can be discussions on how long they've struggled, what family members have gone through to get them there, etc. Their drug of choice could also be different if it works for your story. A young person, even in their 20's will have parents or some older meaningful person care deeply while someone in their 40's will have more peers and younger family (children) the reason they are there. I imagine a younger person to have a bit of an attitude still, while someone more seasoned will appreciate the second chance they're getting, but this could be stereotyping.

    The way the characters speak (or don't) will convey age and sometimes background. A Millennial and a Boomer will speak with different slang and even sentence length. The younger generations tend to overshare.

    I hope this helps, good luck!
     
  18. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    I like it, exactly the kind of conversations kids that age have.
     
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  19. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    By experience and wisdom of course. The younger will be cocky and bold,
    but not have those qualities. The Elder will be more sense-able and well
    reasoned.
     
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  20. @theunheardwriter21

    @theunheardwriter21 Member

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    You could try to use diction, vocabulary, and sentence structure to portray age and maturity.
     
  21. IHaveNoName

    IHaveNoName Senior Member Community Volunteer

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    If the story takes place in modern times, cultural references are a great indicator of age. Each generation has something notable they would talk about - radio, TV, computers, or specific events like JFK's assassination, the Challenger disaster, Columbine, etc. Also, the younger generations have more of a handle on new tech and such (especially social media, these days).
     
  22. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Don't be afraid to use narrative as well as dialogue, by the way.

    You haven't let on how fast you want to convey this information. Is it something we're going to get used to slowly, character by character? Or do you have a roomful of characters and you want us to get their age differences right away?

    What your characters dress like and what they are doing in your story may also be a way to convey age differences. A woman with a high-paying job and two children in school is likely to be older than another woman who is in her second year at University. Not absolutely, of course, but if these kinds of facts are flung into the mix and presented as if they are not anything unusual, the reader will probably get the age gap. Somebody who is excited about voting in their first-ever election is likely to be younger than somebody who complains that nobody they ever vote for ever wins. Again, not absolutely. I was in my 60s before I ever voted in a UK election, because that's when I eventually got my UK citizenship. However, that's unusual, and if you were writing about me you wouldn't use the 'first time vote' as the only marker you give the reader about my age.

    I am a little nervous about the idea that you do it all with dialogue. It's possible, but there is the definite danger not only of creating clichéd speeches that are meant to inform the reader about facts rather than to develop the character's personality and show what the interchanges are like between characters—but in actually getting the clichés wrong. Especially if you rely on slang or preoccupation with technology, or whatever. And not everybody from a particular generation uses the same slang, either.

    I would NEVER attempt to convey a young person today using slang, because I have no idea what kind of slang they use. It would come across as awkward indeed, and I would be very likely to be 'off' by a decade or so. I well remember our 'elders' trying to develop rapport with my generation, using a few words of slang they didn't really understand. You could picture quotation marks around those slang words, in the imaginary speech bubbles above their heads. Their attempt to adopt 'our' slang was ludicrous, irritating, and didn't fool anybody. And it will be equally ludicrous and irritating if I try to do it now.

    I'd rather drop in a few visual observations instead. Visuals are easy, because I can see them (through my new varifocals.) I can see the age of the person in front of me, notice how they are dressed and what they're doing. I won't necessarily know if they're fashionable or not, but if I keep looking, and see that many others of the same age are doing the same thing and dressing in similar ways, I can more or less assume this is a standard they all accept on some level, and want to achieve.

    It's also interesting to note how some people of the same age are NOT dressed or behaving like the majority. Hmm. Story material here. A white-haired woman in a voluminous orange cape and yellow Doc Martens, steps onto the bus. She fishes her bus pass out of her boiled wool tote bag and claps it onto the scanner. She collects her ticket, and makes her way down the aisle. Other white-haired women, wearing beige and grey and mauve wooly hats, plonk their faux leather handbags in the empty seats beside them as she approaches.

    My own prejudices and misconceptions would colour this portrayal as well. Do I think tattoos and nose piercings are sexy, or horrible? Do I like artificially coloured hair? Do I think a girl who wears a frayed denim jacket with a strapless lace dress, blingy jewelry and clompy thunder boots means she reads the current fashion magazines, or do I think this getup looks like something concocted by somebody with no fashion sense at all? These attitudes will be reflected in my portrayal, because—unless I spend a lot of time trying to understand a perspective that's not my own—I'm very likely to get it wrong.

    If it's deathly important for your readers to immediately get the age differences in your characters, then find some way to portray that quickly. The quickest way is through narrative. Narrative also offers less scope for misunderstanding, and also less room for you, the author, to simply get it wrong.

    If you've got lots of time and are introducing the characters slowly, then you can do a lot more to convey their age in a more relaxed way.
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2018
  23. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    And I want to correct my previous post... there was one officer, the tribunis laticlavia, wide-striped tribune, who was the second in command of the legion, basically the XO.
     
  24. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    You can do this various ways short of just saying it

    "Ma died when I was 8, fifteen years later I still miss her" for example
     
  25. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Gay Souffle Contributor

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    I often just come out and say it. "A lanky schoolgirl of fourteen." Although most of my stories are set in schools, so most of the characters are teenagers and not only are there fewer indicators in that case but, as has been said, age is important to teenagers. Mind you, exact age may not be that important, unless it's notable for some reason - for example, in one of my WIPs, a twelve-year-old is smart enough to be in the same form as my fourteen-year-old MC, and another features a child prodigy. It doesn't have to be that person telling them their age, it could be someone else making a remark based on their age. "You're twenty-three, how could you possibly understand X?" "You're forty, you've still got many years ahead of you."
     

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